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Plant-based meat start-up fast-tracks into online retail

Coronavirus may have taken a big hit at the Australian food and hospitality industry, but plant-based meat startup Fable is fast-tracking its business into direct-to-consumer and launching online pop-up stores in Melbourne and the Sunshine Coast.

Fable’s Melbourne event kicked off on Monday, April 6, and ran for 48 hours, and will be followed by the Sunshine Coast next week. Customers can order their meat alternatives through the Fable website and the products will be delivered to them during those two days. 

Depending on the success of the pop-ups, other cities may be added to the list in the future.

“It’s creative and scrappy,” co-founder Michael Fox said of the new initiative. “E-commerce was on our plan but probably not for another 12 months. The plan was to launch into bricks-and-mortar retail first, then direct-to-consumer. I’m really excited to do it, it obviously ties into two of my passions – e-commerce and being vegetarian, too.”

Throughout the duration of the pop-up, the Fable team is also helping out local communities in each of the cities it visits. In Melbourne, it will partner with Third Wave Cafe in Port Melbourne, which is famous for its barbecued meats and burgers and has since shut its doors due to coronavirus. Now Third Wave is creating a Fable ready-made meal as well as a special sauce to complement Fable’s products available for purchase at the pop-up.

Up until recently, Fable’s main focus was on wholesale and its products were on the menu in 50 venues around the country, but, as many of those cafes and restaurants have shut down, those sales have taken a downturn. 

Fortunately, Fable’s biggest customer is subscription business, Marley Spoon, which is faring well in the current climate, as more people sign up for grocery home deliveries, said Fox. Fable is also in talks with Harris Farm and major other retailers, too. The business launched in January last year.

One of the challenges of entering e-commerce for Fable has been working out the delivery logistics for refrigerated items. 

“We can’t put the product into an Australia Post envelope and ship it out, which you can do scrappily if you’re a regular e-commerce business. We need cold chain logistic partners and to make it work for them, they need reasonably high volumes in a particular geographic area to send out a refrigerated van to do deliveries,” he explained.

“We’re going to start out simple with logistics and rent or borrow a refrigerated delivery truck and hire a driver for the day, hence running a 48-hour pop-up in one location at a time. We can then manage the deliveries and logistics easily while we see how this works for us.”

Lessons learned

This is not the first time that Fox has experienced difficult times in business, given the ups and downs his former business, Shoes of Prey, went through when it failed to hit the mass market and eventually went into liquidation.

“I think I learnt how to deal with challenging situations and keep my emotions in check so that I can act rationally and try to do what’s best for the business,” Fox said of his experiences at Shoes of Prey.

“[At Fable], we’re fortunate that we raised more money in November than we had planned and we haven’t been spending anything like what we had raised. So in some way, everything that’s going on now is more chaotic but for us as a business, we’re in a stronger position than we were before.”

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